“All moons, all years, all days, all winds, take their course and pass away. Even so all blood reaches its place of quiet, as it reaches its power and its throne.”
— From the Chilam-Balam of Chumayel, an ancient Maya manuscript
It’s the last night of my trip to Mexico City (Distrito Federal of Mexico), and I was curled up with Rosario Castellanos’s The Nine Guardians (Amazon | Indiebound) in a little house on Atlixco, in the neighborhood of Condesa.
I didn’t know about Castellanos prior to my trip to the DF, but a little research on the web told me that I needed to be familiar with her work. A few days before my trip, I dropped by Green Apple Books in San Francisco and picked up The Nine Guardians along with a book by Octavio Paz. I needed a little schooling on Mexican literary greatness.
Back in the bedroom in Condesa, I felt myself loosening up a little. The last few chapters had stayed with me so intensely that I started to feel like all the spirits Nana, one of the characters in the book, was referring to were with me in the house.
Set in the state of Chiapas, the book centers around the Argüello family during the presidency of Làzaro Càrdenas. It was during the time of Càrdenas that the Mexican Revolution was “consolidated” and that agrarian reform started taking place.
Told from different viewpoints, the book tackles the onset of agrarian reform from the Mayan organizers who tilled the farms, slaves to mestizo Spanish families or ladinos like the Argüellos.
The story opens from the viewpoint of the family’s eldest daughter, usually accompanied by Nana, her nanny of Mayan ancestry.
Does Nana know I hate her when she combs my hair? No, she doesn’t. She doesn’t know anything. She’s Indian, she doesn’t wear shoes, and has no other garment under the blue cloth of her tzec. She isn’t ashamed. She says the ground hasn’t any eyes.
The unnamed seven-year-old narrator grows up with Nana, who explains the ways of her people to the curious child, knowing the complications of their own relationship. The wounded, taking care of the master’s child. Nevertheless, Nana stays warm, is tender. A refuge from a life she herself could barely understand.
One day, the family receives unsuspecting news:
“A law has been passed by which proprietors of farms with more than five families of Indians in their service must provide facilities for teaching, by establishing a school and paying the salary of a rural master.”